LettersHong Kong’s financial secretary is misguided if he thinks money can buy happiness
- Not only does one survey show a weak correlation between economic growth and happiness, but researchers elsewhere have also found societies to be most unhappy during times of war and strife
Mainland China’s GDP per person has doubled in the past 10 years and happiness, measured on a scale from 0 to 10, has also risen by 0.43 points. The income and happiness of Germans have also shown positive correlation.
However, in 43 of the 125 countries studied, GDP per person and happiness move in opposite directions. India’s happiness rating, for example, declined by 1.2 points in 10 years despite having much economic success; Vietnam also experiences a similar divergence. Why?
They studied the United States, Britain, Germany and Italy since 1820, looking for emotion-related words. In the past 200 years, the happiness level of the British declined sharply during the two world wars while Americans showed the lowest level of happiness during the Vietnam war and the evacuation of Saigon.
Economic improvement may not have as decisive an impact on people’s well-being as war does. Although the British enjoyed an increase in happiness during the prosperous Victorian era and the same applies to people in the US during the booming 1920s, the impact was rather short-lived.
The researchers concluded that even though happiness varies with GDP, it has little long-term effect. However, the impact of the political situation on happiness is more far-reaching. We would need to increase GDP per capita by 30 per cent to compensate for the loss of happiness in a year of turmoil.
Dr Winnie Tang, adjunct professor, department of computer science, University of Hong Kong